I had company for dinner Wednesday evening, which is something I do from time to time on a week night. What makes that a little precarious is that my work hours can be unpredictable, despite my best intentions. So, how do I pull it off? Here are a few tips.
- Plan a meal you’re comfortable with and that isn’t too complex. Weeknight entertaining isn’t the time to dazzle. Believe me, your company will be impressed just because you made them a meal on a work night! (As they should be, don’t you think?)
- This kind of entertaining is for people you’re at ease with. Be prepared to cook in front of them and chat while they sit at the table with a drink and something to nibble on. (Just in case you get home five minutes before they arrive. Yes, this has happened to me. More than once.)
- Make sure you have everything you need ahead of time. Don’t count on being able to stop by the market on your way home.
- Consider serving a purchased item as one stress-reducing element of the meal. Even though I have lots of quick, elegant desserts in my repertoire, I bought a pie (thank goodness!).
So, how did I pull it off Wednesday? I got home a scant hour before the guests were due. Everything I needed to do to make a simple meal of spaghetti with meat sauce
was mapped out in my head. First thing in the door, I zipped into the kitchen to pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees
. Then I changed my clothes, put on my apron and got to work.
Spaghetti with Meat Sauce
- 1 pound lean ground beef
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 medium onion
- 2 cloves garlic
- 1 large red bell pepper
- 1 28 0z. can good quality tomatoes, preferably plum
- 1 tsp each dried sage, basil and oregano
- bay leaf
- freshly ground pepper
Put an oven-proof skillet on to heat, add the ground beef and brown it with a little water, breaking it into small pieces with a spatula.
If your time is limited (and in my case also because I knew my guests don’t care for a chunky sauce), cut the onion and garlic into large pieces, toss into the food processor and pulse until finely chopped.
Once the meat is nicely browned, add a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil and stir in the onion and garlic mixture.
Put the tomatoes and the pepper cut into chunks in the food processor and puree until finely ground.
Into the skillet this goes, ready for the addition of a couple of teaspoons of sugar (a bit of a cheat because the cooking time is relatively short), and about a teaspoon each of dried sage, basil and oregano. (Yes, fresh herbs are my fave, and I still have sage in my herb garden, but it was a dark and rainy night and I was in a hurry. Dried herbs are a perfectly acceptable alternative, if not as much fun.)
After a grinding of black pepper and a good stir, pop in a bay leaf, put the lid on the skillet and put it in the oven for a good hour. After 45 minutes, remove the lid and stir.
While the sauce is in the oven, you can prep the salad or veg, and get the table set. When my company arrived, I actually was composed and ready; okay, maybe 95% ready, but that’s pretty good in my books!